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Refuse to be terrorized (2006) (wired.com)
207 points by iwwr on July 17, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 83 comments



Good article but it'll never be read by those who need to read it most.

Unfortunately terror has now been institutionalized. The TSA is a massive bureaucracy that generates jobs and cash flow. It's not something that will ever be dismantled overnight. That's not even mentioning the political convenience it provides: with it politicians can keep us afraid, thus getting our votes when they promise to protect us.

It goes deeper than just fear of terrorism though. Having spent the last few years traveling the world and seeing how other people live, it's always shocking to return to the States to see how afraid everybody is of even the smallest things. Fear seems to have become a centerpiece in the American psyche, and long before 9/11. We even raise our kids to be afraid (see some of the vitriolic responses freerangekids.wordpress.com gets in response to advice like, "It's OK to let your kid ride the bus alone"). Fear of mundane things giving you cancer; existential fear about the economy, which many of us don't even understand and as individuals, have no control over; fear of walking the streets alone at night; fear of getting sick if we don't use antibacterial soap after each bathroom trip. Fear of someone spiking your Tylenol. Uncontrollable fear of a country across the ocean maybe having WMD's.

No, fear of terrorism is just the latest in a laundry list of things Americans have scared themselves with. Until we learn to control that basic fear response, the TSA will still be around and people will still be scared of sitting next to a dark-skinned man kneeling in prayer.


Fear actually engenders itself. The other evening, I was walking down the sidewalk late at night. An attractive woman was coming the other way. I am young, was well-dressed and clean-shaven, but she looked like she was afraid of me.

That made me uncomfortable, which I am sure made me act strangely which only serves to further engender her fear.


In that situation I just cross the street or turn down another street or whatever. One less thing for her to worry about and I avoid being thought of as a potential rapist. I wouldn't say it's a fear-based thing, though. It's more about avoiding a situation which is uncomfortable and awkward for both parties, however fleeting.


Honestly, what were you thinking about when you looked at her?


'Hmm, she's dressed nice, I wonder if she's going to the blues club? Gee, this is awkward. Oh no, she's kind of looking at me out of the corner of her eyes and reaching into her purse...'

You trying to imply I was being uncouth?


Terrorism is a great guise under which to built a counterinsurgency apparatus.


The US is a more aware society. Just because they are talked about in the news, doesn't make someone afraid, just more aware of the dangers in society.

"fear of walking the streets alone at night"

It depends on where you live. If I'm in Detroit, then yes, I will be a little more apprehensive about walking on the streets alone at night. It's just common sense.

"Fear of someone spiking your Tylenol"

If someone hacked into your servers and destroyed data through a weakness, would you fix the weakness or just restore the data and go on with your day? The Tylenol weakness has been fixed. It's the smart thing to do.

"Uncontrollable fear of a country across the ocean maybe having WMD's."

I love how you slipped this one in here. I actually would love for the US to stop all military actions and then have a major terrorist attack. I know I would be the first to blame all of the people who said we were too "paranoid".

It's funny because the reason people can sit and talk about all of these things we don't need is because all of the precautions we have in place are working. Kind of like the person that's bi-polar that stops taking their meds because "I feel fine, why should I keep taking them"?

"Until we learn to control that basic fear response, the TSA will still be around and people will still be scared of sitting next to a dark-skinned man kneeling in prayer."

Until the people in the middle east get their shit together, we will need it. We don't know how many attacks have been prevented because of high security (IE: not even bothering to try).


Your view is exactly the kind of fear I'm referring to.

Re. Tylenol, 7 people died in an isolated area, and the response was national legislation and money and materials spent tamper-proofing every drug made since then. People are still scared of Halloween candy being tampered with (which in and of itself has never been recorded as happening). By that logic, we should have outlawed cars years ago; more than 7 people die every day in accidents.

Re. military action, the occupation of Iraq had little to do with stopping "terrorists." If you recall, we invaded because of our fears of WMD's--which of course, turned out not to exist. You would also do well to recall that we have had terrorist attacks since we invaded: remember the shoe bomber, or the underwear bomber, who both successfully smuggled explosives into a plane after military action had begun? Only their own incompetence and the alertness of the passengers prevented tragedy--the military had nothing to do with it. To suggest otherwise is, frankly, simple ignorance.

Finally, I'm reminded of a Simpsons quote: For $100, I can sell you a rock that prevents tiger attacks. It really works: I've never been attacked by a tiger since I bought my own rock!


"Re. Tylenol, 7 people died in an isolated area, and the response was national legislation and money and materials spent tamper-proofing every drug made since then."

This needed to be done, otherwise someone would be able to do it again. It's not like it hasn't happened. This fear is based on a real case where real people died. Just like the security the US has in its airports. Which is interesting, because there hasn't been any successful terror attacks since 9/11. I would say that their job is being done quite well.

"People are still scared of Halloween candy being tampered with (which in and of itself has never been recorded as happening)."

I will agree with you here, this is a ridiculous fear, which is based more on myth than an actual case.

"By that logic, we should have outlawed cars years ago; more than 7 people die every day in accidents."

They do, but we need cars. We don't need non-tamper proof Tylenol. Although it may never happen again, there is an obvious flaw in the way Tylenol was bottled and that flaw needed to be fixed.

Of course, if they didn't fix this flaw, there would be a fear of Tylenol and people wouldn't buy it..and if it happened again, Tylenol would get sued from anyone that died (then what would we say..stop being afraid?). Fixing it is the smart thing to do.

Should we not wear seat belts either? The chance you will get in a car accident on the way to work is fairly low. Is this just "fear"?

We take preparations all the time, even if there is a small chance that something bad will happen. This is because when something bad does happen, it means death. It seems you don't value human life as much as the US government if you are willing to take that risk (and force everyone else to take that risk).

When Y2K happened, there were a ton of systems fixed (I worked on a few myself). After the new year, many people thought that nothing happened, so why did we make such a big deal about it? If nobody had taken the precautions and fixed these systems, there would have been problems. You (and anyone else against security) are comfortable. You don't see any direct threats and feel that security and precautions aren't needed as a result of this comfort.


"Re. military action, the occupation of Iraq had little to do with stopping "terrorists." If you recall, we invaded because of our fears of WMD's--which of course, turned out not to exist."

No, we invaded Iraq for oil and because a certain Commander CodPiece was a bit too big for his britches. Remember all those oil contracts that were put into place before we invaded? WMDs were an excuse, not the reason.

Many years later, the US is still bleeding money and lives because of this idiotic decision.


No, look at the Vice President and whose pocket he was in. Guess who the largest percentage of contracts for Iraq was? Iraq War was a jobs program for the industrial war machine framework. Not oil..gov contracts worth billions


Having lived both in the U.S. and abroad (I have dual citizenship), I have to say I agree with the original comment. Americans are afraid, and the culture of fear predates 9/11 by a wide margin.

If you want to estimate how many attacks have been prevented by your paranoia, take a look at how many attacks have succeeded in countries with far laxer security. I think you'll find there's not much of a difference, you are paying dearly for not much at all.

Of course, America may have an above-average number of enemies, which might justify tighter security.

But if that is the case, it is worth asking why - and if the root cause can be addressed by diplomacy or (GASP) better behavior on the global stage, then maybe that would be a good alternative to sacrificing your own civil liberties?

Just a thought. :-)


> Of course, America may have an above-average number of enemies, which might justify tighter security.

This is a common belief, which does not make it false.

I'm sure America would be willing to step down to the extent someone else (a European coalition?) would be willing to step up.

Just a thought.


> I actually would love for the US to stop all military actions and then have a major terrorist attack. I know I would be the first to blame all of the people who said we were too "paranoid".

So you'd happily see thousands of people killed as long as it proves you right?

Classy.


> So you'd happily see thousands of people killed as long as it proves you right?

Recent American politics in a nutshell, I'm afraid. Football with words, but also stealth bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.


"Classy."

It would shut everyone on HN (and the US) up that seem to think that we don't need TSA security.


It amazes me that people freak out when they see "Muslim-looking" people on flights. The politically-correct response is along the lines of "OMG That is highly prejudicial!", but that's irrelevant. From a purely practical perspective, why would a terrorist leader send an attacker whom many Americans immediately view as "suspicious", when he could send someone who appears more "normal"?

On another note, people these days still puff out their chests and say the terrorists couldn't change our way of life. Good one. Another fallacious line of reasoning is that we can destroy terrorism by military action alone. Tell that to the teenage boy who just lost his family to an errant US bomb in his Afghan village and now has a massive amount of pent up rage, and nothing to lose.

If the conditions are right, terrorism can always regenerate itself. The way to fight it is to alter the conditions. To do this we must understand why people hate America. Contrary to popular belief, it's not that we are secular or free. Osama bin Laden himself asked that if he wanted to attack secular, democratic states, why didn't he attack Sweden? I'm obviously not condoning terrorism, but the key to beating it is understanding it on at least a basic level. Unfortunately, our leaders in the past 10 years have been more inclined to drop bombs than to know the enemy.

edit: I'm not saying military action is inappropriate. It clearly has been effective in many cases.


Military action is part of the "let's pretend we're doing something useful"-strategy. Dropping bombs and sending soldiers is MUCH easier than trying to tackle the very complex social problems that drive people to blow themselves up. I'm not claiming I know the root cause of the problem, but terrorism does seem to be connected with poverty and oppressive governments. Blowing yourself up is obviously a last and desperate & futile resort.

At the end of the day, we're all human, and we're all more or less equal in what we're capable of and in what we want. We all want a bit of happiness for ourselves and our loved ones. And I dare say that happy people don't blow themselves up.


Can we please not be mushy-headed and pretend that the reason that we chose military "solutions" is because they are somehow easier?

It's actually quite complex to invade several poorly-chosen nations, spending trillions in the process, stay in those nations for twice the duration of WWII, and manage to justify all of these misadventures to the public well enough to get away with it.

We didn't choose this path because it was easier. This path was chosen because we elected an Administration which had immense political and financial motivation to find excuses to make war, as often as possible for as long as possible, regardless of the alleged reasons.

For my money, it would actually be much simpler (and obviously more efficient and fruitful) to solve the admittedly complex problems surrounding what causes folks to want to become terrorists.


  It amazes me that people freak out 
  when they see "Muslim-looking" people on flights.
I may not be flying often enough, but I am flying both in the USA and International, and I have never seen this happening. (Maybe someone was freaking out quietly and I have not noticed.)

Is this your experience, or are you extrapolating from what you have read about it?


First sentence in the article: passengers refused to fly with two Arab-looking men looking at their watches.


So, extrapolating?


yeah, well, 9/11 still happened with people that didn't appear "normal".

"The way to fight it is to alter the conditions. To do this we must understand why people hate America."

We should bend over backwards to make the terrorists happy so they don't attack us? What if they hate us because we aren't part of their religion..is the answer to make the US a Muslim country? Negotiating with terrorists that clearly aren't interested in negotiating is not what we should be doing here.


Nice flamebait. I'll resist the urge to resort to profanities.

You seem to be very much stuck in an "us" and "them" mindset. You also seem to be missing several things. No one said anything about bending over backwards. As for negotiating, who exactly is there to negotiate with in the first place? You seem to be under the mistaken impression that there's some kind of top secret terrorist government hiding somewhere, and that "they" are secretly hatching evil plots to destroy "America". (Because apparently America is the only country that's ever been targetted by terrorists? Get over yourself.)

And who suggested making the US a "Muslim country"? The very notion is ridiculous. The US claims to be a "free" country after all, with freedom of religion. There's nothing stopping Muslims from worshipping Allah as much as they please in the US. Nor should there be. And there sure as hell shouldn't be anything to stop "them" from getting on planes, looking at their watches, praying, growing big beards or walking around in whatever outfits they damn well please.


"Nice flamebait. I'll resist the urge to resort to profanities."

Nice way to get out of a discussion.

"As for negotiating, who exactly is there to negotiate with in the first place?"

You said we should try to figure out why they are angry with us..as if it's the fault of the US for getting attacked (blaming the victim).

"You seem to be under the mistaken impression that there's some kind of top secret terrorist government hiding somewhere, and that "they" are secretly hatching evil plots to destroy "America". (Because apparently America is the only country that's ever been targetted by terrorists? Get over yourself.)"

Nice flamebait. In Many other countries, they have full-on profiling with armed guards on each plane. It seems to work pretty well on the middle east.

"There's nothing stopping Muslims from worshipping Allah as much as they please in the US. Nor should there be. And there sure as hell shouldn't be anything to stop "them" from getting on planes, looking at their watches, praying, growing big beards or walking around in whatever outfits they damn well please."

I never said they shouldn't be stopped. However, if there are a high number of attempted attacks and the description of the attackers match the type of people coming onto the plain, the TSA should be allowed to question/detain those people.

It's this type of thinking that stops a newspaper from putting a description of a criminal because it's not politically correct.


There are two kinds of terrorists: The desperate and the insane. A life of terrorism is very unstable, and usually quite brutal and short. The desperate join up because the only other alternative is rolling over and either dying or becoming enslaved in some way. Theirs is a rational choice. The insane are men who crave power to such a degree that there is little they won't do to secure it, but in order to succeed they need numbers. That's where the desperate come in.

People prefer order to chaos. Order brings prosperity and security. But when there's no hope of prosperity or security, people start to look for ways to change the political landscape to improve their chances of surviving as a group. The closer they feel they are to having their lives or culture or way of life annihilated, the more desperate they become. (It's worth noting that you can manufacture greater desperation in the minds of people around a kernel of real desperation, which makes for an effective recruiting tactic, especially among the religious)

If you want to stop terrorism, you must work to end the source of their desperation. Once you remove (or diminish) the desperate from the equation, the insane will neither be able to form numbers of any notability, nor secure the goodwill of others. They will be treated as they are: criminally insane.


Studies by Israelis (who have tonnes of captured Pakistani terrorists) have shown terrorists are often from well-off backgrounds (but from a poor country), and otherwise "good" people (empathic, sense of social responsibility, etc). If your country is poor, and you happen to be from a privileged background, you might feel the need to give something back. If your community believes that "martyrs" are good, then terrorism is an option.

And yes, they do tend to be 20-year-old males. Others can be poor, and unlikely to be able to get a girlfriend or wife.

Its not about desperate individuals, but a desperate community. The communities are often desperate because of poor governance, but you can't unilaterally bring good governance to the Middle East (or any other region).

Actually, there's a lot of reasons why communities are desperate. But a lot of those are hard problems, which are taking time to solve.


You raise a fascinating point about what happens to societies when the males have no chance of getting a girlfriend or wife (they may become destructive because they aren't stakeholders).


I wonder what will happen in China as their "need" for male heirs continue to drive their one-child family planning (not to mention infanticide and abandonment leading to out-of-country adoption).


There's a wave of young, unmarried men in China now, but it's not nearly as bad as the pre-revolutionary times when polygamy was rampant.

At the moment, men are marrying later than women, and chasing overseas brides. Brides sometimes come from Vietnam, where the girls outnumber boys and the culture is somewhat similar; also men occasionally marry African women, as China is now doing more business there; though there's a hell of a lot of racism in China towards anyone with darker skin than average. Also, men are expected to buy a house and car before marriage, which isn't great for men from poorer families (the boys parents usually foot the bill, as few men in their 20s can buy a house). Actually, the costs of male children is starting to reduce the prejudice a bit.

It will raise the crime rate, and cause social disorder (young unmarried men are the kind of people who throw molotov cocktails at authorities - and no authority wants that). China knows this, and has softened the one-child policy a lot. Women used to be forced to abort subsequent pregnancies; now they are more likely to face a fine. Also, prostitution is widespread.


Thank you for a very intereting bit of information.


Why would Israelis have any Pakistani terrorists? Is this a conspiracy theory?


Typo. Palestinian. Fixed. Damn that was stupid.


  9/11 still happened with people that didn't appear "normal"
Actually, they did appear normal. USA is a very multinational country, and these guys would not look much different from the rest of the passengers. Especially in international airports of large cities of the Eastern shore where they boarded the planes.

(Mohammed Atta could be an exception. Not by the looks, but by his facial expression. I believe I saw him with a few of his co-conspirators several months before 9/11, and he did stand out.)


Five years latter, the U.S. has institutionalized a terrified attitude, at least with respect to air travel. At this point, the only thing that might compel me to put up with the useless, degrading, indignity of U.S. air travel would be a dire family obligation - like a funeral - which I couldn't meet in any other way. I am appalled that my fellow citizens demand this abasement.


  I am appalled that my fellow citizens demand this abasement.
Many demand the opposite, but there is no political mechanism that would listen to them specifically. They need to convince the rest first, then it can be done.


This has always been one of my biggest issues with "counter-terrorism". If the costs of fighting terrorism outweigh the damage that a genuine terrorist group could inflict... who really wins?

As a US citizen, I don't doubt that some of our spending has directly stopped particular terrorist plots. However, my point for the past ~10 years has been: they [terrorists] are tricking us into burning money chasing them around the world. If we had invested a fraction of this to take care of people who have suffered from non-terrorist causes we would result with a net benefit.[1]

I want to reiterate that there undoubtedly threats to be addressed, but sometime I wish that politicians (and a fair amount of the general population) would leave the whack-a-mole terrorism game alone, take their (our) coin home and find something better to do.

[1] Admit, this is an assumption. But I don't think it's a huge leap.


>they [terrorists] are tricking us into burning money chasing them around the world

The terrorists are not the ones gaining financially and they are not the ones tricking us.


I didn't mean to say that terrorists are gaining financially or that the "burn[t] money" goes to them. I'd be surprised if that's a real goal.

My point was that regardless of where the money ends up, if it's misappropriated then it's a waste.


I understood your point, and don't disagree.

Terrorism is overblown as an excuse to spend the money in ways to benefit certain industries.


A satisfying read indeed. Schneier hits the target right in the middle. I feel exactly the same way about this terrorism. Even though I personally haven't been to the US, what I see in the news, in movies and on television is enough to tell me that Americans are indeed living in fear.

However, I do not blame the American (and other) people for hating us (Muslims). I blame the media. I blame the politicians. I blame the terrorists. We may also disagree on the definition of a terrorist. I may tell you that an Afghan militant defending his country and his people against invasion by shooting at American soldiers (this differs from taking innocent lives) is not a terrorist, but a soldier, regardless of his nationality, or who the soldiers he's shooting at are.

But in the end, people, Muslims or otherwise, who shamelessly attack, bomb or torture innocent people, people who did them no harm, nor presented any threat to them, nor attacked their country or their people, are terrorists.

Indeed, what is happening today in America and in several other countries regarding escalating security measures and incessant leakage of threats is simply the result of governments wanting to control their people (see "1984") by using the media to their advantage.

I mean, seriously, think of the guy who tried to detonate a bomb located in his shoe whilst in an plane. Why didn't he go to the toilet and detonate it there? The terrorists I know from the media aren't that ignorant.


This is years old, maybe submitter should mention that.


Still incredibly relevant though. With Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and others confronting the TSA in the House, and last week's court decision requiring the TSA to have a comment period, this issue's going to be heating up again.


Relevant, yes, this opinion was put forward by rational people just after the 9/11 : terrorists want terror, don't give them that. Ten years later (yeah, 9/11 happened ten years ago, I feel old) this sensible opinion is still ignored.


<quote> "The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.</quote>

I know this is not going to be popular because Schneier is a crypto/security God and all but I call B.S. on the above quote.

If you would have given any of the 9/11 terrorists or UBL a button and told them they could wipe out the U.S. and everyone in it by just pressing the button how quickly do you think they would do it? Or do you think they'd say "Sorry, no-can-do. There won't be anyone left to terrorize."?

Their goal is not to terrorize/scare people. Their goal is the total destruction of anyone or anybody that stands in the way of their total domination.


Their goal is to maximize destruction given the resources they have. If they had a button that instantly destroy the US, of course they would press it. But the fact is that they don't have such a button; they have very limited resources. Their most efficient use of resources is to make random, very visible and violent attacks and hope that our responses do even more damage.


Huh? Just because they don't have said resources to kill everyone in the U.S. doesn't mean it's not their ultimate goal... No one can say whether or not they could eventually acquire those resources via rogue states.

UBL specifically stated that jihadist should NOT differentiate between Military/Government and civillians.


This was well understood nearly a century ago; an awful lot of people know FDR's line that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" but have never thought about it and have no idea what it means.


I am really amazed how the whole world wants to ignore one simple fact that until now costs us a lot of lives: (9/11 and many other terrorist attacks all over the world) There is a group of people (mainy Muslim)that want all: Jews, Americans, and "free" world countries to perish or convert the Islam (and if not pay special "Muslim" taxes) This is not a conspiracy and this message is played on national TV in many Muslim countries http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GvsNFWRbM0&feature=share what pisses me off is that most of the word ignores this completely and blames Israel and the US for it because of our foreign policy. What scares me most is that it seems to me like were back to the 1930s when Hitler was talking about killing most non Aryan races and the whole world not caring and doing anything about it. So wake the fuck up and realize that we do have a problem in hand, and it's not a joke many people have died and will continue dying terrorism is a world problem not only American, there were dozens of terrorist attacks outside the US, sorry even more then the US. Any ways wake up people and stop being scared of saying the obvious.


But if we refuse to be terrorized, the terrorists have already won!


The refusalists will have won.


...yes, that was intended as sarcasm, you can stop downvoting it now.


A thousand up votes! Keep calm, and carry on.


There are roughly 20 Million Flights world wide per year.

During the period of those 5 incidents, there were over 220,000 flights. (4 days)

Yes, it would suck to be on one of those flights, but your chances are extremely low. 00.0023% of flights are impacted. You have less than a 1 in 43,000 chance of being on one of those flights.

But... if you are on one of those flights where there is suspected terrorist activity, at a rate of 1 actual attack attempt per year (I couldn't get an exact number, but I bet that is pretty close) Your chances of being killed quickly become much, much higher at 1 in 365.

I know I will be downgraded because people don't agree with me, but the reality is that terrorism is real, and if I am on a plane, I'd rather them be safe then sorry.

Doing so makes attacks much less likely to succeed which will help reduce attacks.


> but the reality is that terrorism is real

Many things are real. Lightning strikes. Car accidents. Meteorites to the head. Tsunamis. Smoking. Fat.

Dying because of a terrorist attack is way, way, way, way down on the list of stuff you are likely to die from, so the only rational thing to do is to worry about the stuff ABOVE it on the list. Like driving. Or eating right. Or not smoking. Get your priorities right.


A single successful attack causes Billions of dollars in losses. Look at load factors after September 11th. Planes were empty for months.


so you wouldn't worry about lightning storms in your sleep, but if you are out in the field during one you'll probably take some precautions? maybe get out from under the tallest tree? You probably wouldn't completely ignore it.


Lightning precautions are based on the testable realities of physics. There is no relation between that and the voodoo pseudo-security that is the TSA and public 'security' in general.


This is true, it is hard to prove if what the TSA does is actually preventing terrorist attacks. Just because it is not proven does not mean it is not working.


i am not defending TSA. Just pointing out the psychology of people who feel that their lives are in possible danger.


I don't know what sort of maths you're arguing for here, but your argument doesn't make any sense to me at all.

If we assume there are about 100,000 flights per day worldwide (a quick Google suggests this is a reasonable round-figure estimate) then there are 36.5 million flights per year. If there is 1 actual attack attempt per year, then your chance that a flight you are on is a target is only 1 in 36,500,000 or so. Then, of course, many such attacks apparently do not succeed if your one-per-year rate is accurate, and even a successful attack may not kill you, so your real odds of dying due to a terrorist attack on an aircraft are going to be lower.

Even someone who flies a few times per year probably has lifetime odds of dying due to such an attack of 1 in 1,000,000. In other words, you're more likely to be hit by an asteroid, drowned in a tsunami, blown up by a firework, or fatally attacked by a dog. Of course, you are also 50x more likely to die in a non-terrorism-related air accident, and 200x more likely still to die in a motor accident. (See, for example, http://www.livescience.com/3780-odds-dying.html)

The one I find most amusing is when the advocates of the virtual strip search machines trot out the line about how statistically only a handful of people per year are likely to get cancer as a result of those machines who wouldn't otherwise have done so, while conveniently overlooking the fact that the odds of being killed in the hypothetical air-related terrorist attack they are "protecting" us from are even lower.

Basically, the reality is that terrorism is real but the threat it poses is insignificant compared to numerous much greater risks that we don't rewrite our lives for. The extra danger created directly by the "improved security" is probably at least as bad. The extra danger created indirectly, for example because more people choose to drive than to fly, is very much greater than the original threat.


The problem with your logic is that the statistics you give are based on there being security. Without it, you have no idea how high the number of successful attacks on planes would be.

The chance of dying in a auto accident is still really low. Should we start allowing drinking and driving, no air bags, no speed limits etc. because those laws are annoying to you?

I, like everyone else would appreciate less restrictive security, but some level of security has to be present on aircraft. Without it, there would be far more incidents. Especially non terrorist activities like people bringing guns on board for hijackings etc. Security at airports is effective against a wide range of attacks, not just organized terrorism.

(I used 2000's number of flights to estimate today's. 20M)


You are doing what lawyers call "assuming facts not in evidence".

In particular, you are assuming that without the current procedures, actual security for air travel would in fact be lower. Moreover, you are assuming that if actual security for air travel were lower, the result would be an overall increase in losses due to terrorist attack. Neither of those things is necessarily true.

Firstly, the whole point of the criticism here is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the kind of security theatre we put up with (or avoid by not flying) today does improve actual security.

Secondly, why would you assume that a terrorist with the resources to conduct a successful attack and the willingness to do so would be deterred just because airport security prevented them getting onto a plane? Why wouldn't they just attack another target instead: a railway station, a shopping centre, a nightclub, the queue for security at the airport? If you prevent them from killing 300 people by attacking an aircraft, but they kill 300 people by blowing themselves up in a crowded nightclub instead, you haven't saved any lives, you've just moved the problem.

Your car analogy fails, by the way, for the simple reason that thousands of people die in road traffic accidents every year in my country, and laws prohibiting drinking and driving have been shown beyond any reasonable doubt to reduce that casualty rate. (Air bags and speed limits are more controversial, because the evidence that they are a net win is not so conclusive, but that's a topic for another day.)


You seem like a reasonable person, so I think you just missed the key point of the article: the security theater does not increase security.


So, you can clearly do the math, and still choose to be irrationally afraid. That's... interesting.


"Rather be safe than sorry" is not a very useful statement. Any time you step out of the house you're taking some sort of risk. Each person has their own tradeoff between reducing risk and living life, but except for a very few people (who are universally considered to be mentally ill), nobody sets that tradeoff at zero risk and zero life. To imply that you would want to take any measure to make travel safer no matter how small the risk already is makes no sense. If you are that sensitive to risk, you shouldn't be traveling at all.


You got downvoted because you did the statistical equivalent of begging the question. Assuming that you are going to be attacked and killed by terrorists, the odds of you dying via terrorist attack are 100%. P(A|A) = 1. (I know you didn't go to this extreme, but you did the same basic thing.) This is not an interesting result.


That's all great, but consider a situation.

I get on the plane and sit next to a guy who avoids eye contact, does not respond to Hi and then starts praying, seemingly detached from the reality. Shall I just ignore this and refuse to be terrorized?

I will tell you more. As someone who rode on a subway train that was next to the one blown up in a terrorist attack, I will walk out of a coffee shop if I see a person leaving a bag behind and stepping outside. I did that when I was single and I certainly still do it now when I have two kids. If there is a sliver of probability that I can be killed due to my inaction, I will act and I will do my best to avoid that risk. If it takes de-boarding someone from a plane, so be it.


> I get on the plane and sit next to a guy who avoids eye contact, does not respond to Hi and then starts praying, seemingly detached from the reality.

So last year this kind-of happened to me.

Except I was flying home from Bali with my boyfriend. (I'm a guy). And the person next to us in our row of three was a tiny, Italian, catholic nun, who spoke absolutely no English whatsoever and prayed A LOT during the entire flight, and was not pleased at all to be seated next to us. Oh, and we were flying Qatari Airways, so all messages from the captain were in Arabic, and only sometimes English. And the majority of the passengers were muslims. And the loudest group on board were a bunch of Chinese christians from Singapore. They also prayed a lot for a safe flight.

I would assume the mainstream paranoid American attitude would have set off hundreds of alarm bells in that situation, but what do you know, everything worked out fine. I mostly slept during that flight.

You really should do the math on risks instead of acting irrationally and afraid. The risk of dying in a terrorist attack is way less than being struck by lightning, and way, WAY less than being killed in a car accident. If you take the car every day, and still avoid people leaving bags behind, you're not doing the math right, you're acting irrationally. You're modifying your behaviour to avoid the 1:10000000 risk, but don't do anything about the 1:10000 risk. It should be the other way around.


> I get on the plane and sit next to a guy who avoids eye contact, does not respond to Hi and then starts praying, seemingly detached from the reality. Shall I just ignore this and refuse to be terrorized?

The idea isn't to shrug off what you perceive to be dangerous situations. The recent attempts at US attacks were thwarted because people were correctly suspicious. Level of suspicion also depends on where you're at. In your second instance with the coffee shop, if I'm in Vancouver, Canada I'd think "He probably just forgot it, I should go after him." If I'm in London, then yeah, I'd probably be suspicious since from my perspective there seem to be a lot more successful attacks there.

The idea is in how you respond to those sorts of things. Do you really consider the plane scenario a strong possibility for you, with the guy actually carrying a bomb? If you do, that shows two things. One, you're (statistically) over-paranoid and have been "terrorized". Two, you've basically admitted that you think all the current security measures designed to make you feel safer are basically crap, in which case you should agree with removing them and potentially designing better methods that actually work.


Of course it all depends on many factors, location included. I thought it was obvious, but apparently judging by the down-voting frenzy it is not.

Ironically enough the only time I walked out of public place over a left behind bag was in Vancouver. A hippy-looking Jesus person marched into a Starbucks, dropped his canvas bag on an empty chair, paused for a second and marched out. He was completely spaced out, not focusing on anything, and it all looked as odd as it sounds. It was on Robson street around lunch time. So I got up and left, and do tell me that it was not reasonable thing to do. The guy was outside, just outside the entrance, yelling at someone over a cellphone, and that explained his behavior. But without knowing that it could've been something else.

And, yes, I am familiar with the term "security theater".


> I get on the plane and sit next to a guy who avoids eye contact, does not respond to Hi and then starts praying, seemingly detached from the reality. Shall I just ignore this and refuse to be terrorized?

If you're freaking out at something as harmless as this, the problem isn't the other guy.

This is the same kind of overinflated danger mentality that bars men from playing chess in a park near a playground on suspicion that they are child molesters.

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/kiddie_pawn_sho...

Meanwhile, things that are orders of magnitude more likely to cause harm are ignored.


I get on the plane and sit next to a guy who avoids eye contact, does not respond to Hi and then starts praying, seemingly detached from the reality. Shall I just ignore this and refuse to be terrorized?

Yeah, typically when I sit down on a plane next to some stranger who doesn't talk to me or interact with me I guess you could say I "ignore this and refuse to be terrorized."

If there is a sliver of probability that I can be killed due to my inaction, I will act and I will do my best to avoid that risk. If it takes de-boarding someone from a plane, so be it.

Fuck you for thinking you have the right to screw over other people's lives with your paranoia. Do you understand that "someone" is a human being like you?


> I get on the plane and sit next to a guy who avoids eye contact, does not respond to Hi and then starts praying, seemingly detached from the reality. Shall I just ignore this and refuse to be terrorized?

Yes. He's most likely just scared of flying. The remote chance of him being a terrorist is nicely balanced by the zero chance of anyone hijacking a plane these days without being piled on by angry passengers.


I guess that is one positive outcome. Before passengers would do nothing, now, they will beat up the hijackers.


>I get on the plane and sit next to a guy who avoids eye contact, does not respond to Hi and then starts praying, seemingly detached from the reality. Shall I just ignore this and refuse to be terrorized?

That depends. Are his prayers Christian prayers, or Muslim prayers?


Not really, I think it would be strange regardless.


You'd have even less of a chance of dying if you just stayed home all day. If you really believed in that "sliver of probability" stuff, you'd never go outside. By placing disproportionate emphasis on terrorism you're actually making yourself less safe, because it takes attention away from things which actually have a decent chance of killing you.


Seriously, why are you all voting this guy down? He's expressing an honest opinion, not trolling.

Just because you disagree is no reason to downvote, especially since HN fades the text until it's near impossible to read, making discussion harder.


I don't think most downvotes are about agreement.

An honest opinion need not be an opinion worth reading. I want to read honest, informed, insightful, and justified opinions especially when I disagree, not honest, but knee-jerk opinions, even if I agree.


> especially since HN fades the text until it's near impossible to read, making discussion harder.

You can highlight the text to make it readable.


Is it everyone's belief who reads hacker news that the number of successful terrorism attacks would not go up if we eliminated all airport security?

It seems obvious to me that the following would occur more: 1) Mentally impaired people would attempt to hijack, bomb, or otherwise cause problems on planes with weapons. 2) Drunk or impaired by drugs (meth, coke, etc.) would attempt to hijack, bomb, or otherwise cause problems on planes. 3) Rouge individual terrorists would target planes rather than simply shoot up an office etc. 4) Organized terrorist organizations would target planes more often.

With the level of security we have today, it is still important to report what could be a terrorist attack in process. The person who reported the shoe bomber saved an entire plane full of people.

It is terrible that we live in a world where terrorism exists, but it does exist, and it will exist forever. The examples the author gave are described to make incidents involved seem ridiculous, but maybe there were other factors at play.

If you see something suspicious and you do nothing and a terrorist attack occurs that you could have prevented you are a coward who is responsible for the death of whatever number of people died in that attack.

You keep terrorists from winning by preventing successful implantation of their plans.


Is it everyone's belief who reads hacker news that the number of successful terrorism attacks would not go up if we eliminated all airport security?

Yes! You are very astute! Everyone here believes that we should eliminate all airport security (even though none of us were brazen enough to actually write it)! Now that you have identified that fact, you may write 200 words arguing against it and proving how silly we all are.




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